Fulmer following Verlander's veteran lead
In addition to learning from Tigers' ace, young righty tries to act as mentor, too
DETROIT -- Michael Fulmer had hardly set both feet down in the dugout after the eighth inning of Tuesday's game against the Royals when Justin Verlander walked up to him. Fulmer's day was done, with the Tigers trailing by two in an eventual 3-1 loss.
Verlander immediately asked Fulmer, who was one start removed from eight runs allowed in 2 2/3 innings, if he had changed anything. In Verlander's opinion, Fulmer had shown his best stuff since he was called up last April, in what became an American League Rookie of the Year season.
"He said, 'Just don't get discouraged by the results, because your stuff is there,'" Fulmer said. "And I kind of took that to heart and I kind of reflected on it last night while I couldn't sleep."
Fulmer, 24, is one of the brightest young pitching stars in baseball. But even he benefits from having a veteran mentor such as Verlander, 34, who turned young success -- a fellow AL Rookie of the Year Award -- into a lengthy, face-of-the-franchise quality career.
"It's always good to have a voice that's made it through and is still in the game," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "In many ways it can be reassuring, especially when you're struggling."
Fulmer hasn't struggled much, but he entered Tuesday's start coming off the shortest roughest outing of his brief career. He said it's impactful to have Verlander watching him, offering advice and providing a presence of leadership.
Some day, Fulmer wants the opportunity to be a team leader, too. He's already started, talking to young guys this past year in Spring Training such as Sandy Baez, a 23-year-old currently with Class A Advanced Lakeland. Baez was full of questions, to Fulmer's delight.
"My advice to any young guy who's trying to get to the big leagues or is at the big leagues and trying to learn, just ask questions," Fulmer said. "These guys in the clubhouse, nobody's going to turn you away if you're asking questions."
Fulmer said he takes his own advice, and did so particularly last season when he was new to the Majors. Verlander, Ausmus and pitching coach Rich Dubee were his go-to resources for everything from how to prepare on start days to what to wear on team charters.
Verlander has been helpful to Fulmer, but now the information flows both ways. They learn from each other, talking strategy and pitch selection during bullpen sessions.
"He's gotten to the point where he's asking me what I'm thinking," Fulmer said. "And he'll say, 'Good. That's what I thought, too.' Or, 'That was the right pitch.'
"He's still trying to learn, too, even at 34 years old. He's still learning the game of baseball, and that's what makes him so successful."
With less than a week to go before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the days of Fulmer and Verlander sharing a locker room may be numbered. Verlander's name has swirled in trade rumors of several contenders, though he'd have to waive his no-trade clause for any deal to be done.
As an AL Cy Young Award winner and six-time All-Star, Verlander's clubhouse presence may be overlooked among other measurements of value he brings to a team. But if he's traded, his mentorship will certainly be missed, too, especially by young pitchers such as Fulmer, lockermate Daniel Norris (24) and Matthew Boyd (26).
Regardless of what happens at the Deadline, Verlander's impression is lasting. Fulmer appears well on his way to being a leader for the Tigers in the future.
"I hope I can be to some of the other young guys, when they get called up, that he was to me," Fulmer said. "Because he's been a huge help, and obviously I'd like to play with him as long as I can."